Artists of the Year

Makers who mattered in 1995

Laura Sinagra is a Minneapolis writer and frequent contributor to City Pages.


by Carolyn Kuebler

It took a long time for Rikki Ducornet's writing to get noticed here in the States. But it took a long time for her to get back here herself, having lived in Canada, Algeria, and France for more than 20 years. Most of her books--novels, poetry, short fiction, illustrations--were published by small British and Canadian presses, and found a devoted following before they were picked up by the likes of City Lights and Dalkey Archive Press. Now all of her fiction is in print in the United States and, especially this year, finding public acclaim.

The Stain, the first novel of her Tetralogy of Elements, was reprinted in conjunction with her latest work of fiction, Phosphor in Dreamland, which was reviewed in more than a dozen national publications and made Publishers Weekly's top 25 list. Phosphor, an epistolary history of the Caribbean island of Birdland, is perhaps the most apocalyptic of Ducornet's novels; at the same time it is an exuberant love story about the title character, a club-footed inventor-poet. Bound up together in all of her bawdy, surreal, and transcendent fiction are disparate worlds of reality and imagination, storytelling, politics, and poetry. In Phosphor, I found myself underlining a passage that's indicative of her approach to writing: "Phosphor realized ... that words are the vehicles of meaning and intention, not things to be sent buzzing in the void in order to fill it with a digressive, numbing hum, but particles of meaning, interactive and necessary." Ducornet may live in the strip-malled and smog-infested city of Denver, but it seems more accurate to say that she inhabits the images of her stereoscope, her lucid dreams of Paris and Chiapas, and the strokes of her own handwritten novels.

Carolyn Kuebler is a Minneapolis writer and coeditor of the Rain Taxi Review of Books.


by David Lefkowitz

1995 may go down as the year in which cyberspace became the new frontier of the cutting-edge artist. As such, painting and sculpture were eulogized yet again in the wake of supposedly more egalitarian, more flexible, and just plain better and cooler new technology. So it was heartening to encounter work in more traditional media that can still command attention and engender experience that is at once visceral and intellectual.

Two particular exhibits in the Twin Cities in the past year were just such encounters. Shana Kaplow's paintings of discrete body parts on hand-cut, slightly irregular wood panels are ironically unified and complete; we reconstruct these partial gestures according to our own knowledge and experience of the human animal. By focusing on the body in a way that is at once clinical and lyrical, Kaplow somehow manages to express both how commonplace and how amazing our existence is. Moreover, an adequate experience of these pieces is only possible in real space. A reproduction, on a postcard or online, can only hint at what the paintings clearly convey.

For his installation at the Soap Factory, N44 58.961' W93 14.982', Michael Rathbun used a single basic material, raw pine, to construct a large, ship-like form which plows through wooden waves with absurdly oversized and unwieldy oars. The huge structure of blonde lumber trapped in the dark gray confines of the equally raw warehouse space was as "interactive" as anything I've seen on the Web. This fantastic ship-in-a-room embodies a paradox of motion and stasis, and a slow, considered walk on its gently sloping planks offers a constantly shifting perspective.

For all the possibilities of cyberspace, it's not a panacea for creativity. As long as our brains rely on our bodies to gather information, plastic forms will continue to inspire awe and reflection. Kaplow and Rathbun convey that message as articulately, and evocatively, as any artists anywhere today.

David Lefkowitz is a Minneapolis painter and writer.


by Howard Hampton

Sally Timms's deceptively modest album To the Land of Milk and Honey (on Chicago's tiny Feel Good All Over label) might be the soundtrack to an allusive montage of film clips: "Round up the usual suspects," it begins, ironic images of the past displacing the impoverished present, mocking a passionless era. Her journey is composed of slow tracking shots, tight close-ups, lingering fades to black. "There'll be silence from now on," she sings of a new age that lulls us with its litany of horrors--the endless sleep of shock treatment and wet dreams. Here the stolen reverie of John Cale's "Half Past France" (the vintage violence of uncounted '40s spy thrillers reduced to nervous small talk and brutal epigrams) melts into Jackie DeShannon's "Everytime She Walks in the Room," performed as though it held the key to all the unrequited desires of the '60s. In "King Ludwig," letter bombs travel by carrier pigeon and the Grateful Dead play at the behest of the Czar. "It Says Here" is also a letter to--or from--another time, doubling back its own meanings like Chris Marker's video missives in The Last Bolshevik.

And then there is "Longing, Madness and Lust": dulcet tones against an irresistible beat, a language of unreconstructed defiance in the face of desperate odds. As radiantly bitter as the Sandy Denny of "Genesis Hall" (Fairport Convention) or the Ulrike Meinhof of "Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?" (Baader-Meinhof Gang), Timms plunges into that abyss where life waits in exile. "A poor girl makes love, a rich man is shot," she sings with her finger on both triggers; "I will pump meaning into your dreams." You could listen to that line from here to eternity and never exhaust the audacity and resolve behind it.

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